After months of waiting, we finally know that Sylvester Stallone’s new version of Rocky IV (called Rocky IV: Rocky Vs. Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut) will reach screens later this year. Revisit Empire’s interview with the man who created the film’s cult hit robot Sico – reportedly slashed from the new edition – originally published in Empire’s November 2020 issue.
Rocky IV is a story about honour, courage, the conflict between East and West, and muscular men standing atop mountains screaming. But it is also a story about the touching relationship that develops between a hard-drinking slob and the robot butler he is given for his birthday. In one of the strangest subplots of the 1980s, Paulie (Burt Young) first spurns bulbous-headed mechanoid Sico — “I wanted a sportscar for my birthday, not no walking trash can” — then warms to him, reprogramming him to have a female voice and ultimately telling Rocky, “That’s my girl. She loves me.” Fans embraced the peculiarly affecting weirdness, and Sico became a cult phenomenon, all part of Rocky IV’s unique, OTT charm.
Until now. Because on 30 August, with an Instagram post about his upcoming director’s cut of the film, Sylvester Stallone declared war against the metal icon he made famous almost four decades ago. “The robot is going to the junkyard forever,” Stallone announced. “No more robot.”
The internet exploded — the parts Empire frequents, anyway — with many distraught at 2020’s most unlikely celebrity feud. We tracked down Robert Doornick, founder of International Robotics and the man who both created and voiced Sico, to get his take on the big news.
“I was in my office when I found out,” recalls Doornick. “I was deluged with messages: ‘How can Stallone do that?’ But I know why he’s doing it, because I know he loves the robot. By causing turmoil among the fans of Sico, it generates more publicity. And by removing the robot from the movie, it saves money in royalty fees, because he is a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Sico receives cheques all the time — and of course he sends them over to me.”
On set, Doornick recalls, Stallone and Sico were on great terms. During the shoot the star arranged for the robot to gatecrash scenes. “During the fight with Drago he came in and yelled at Stallone, ‘You want me to take care of this Russian guy for you?’” And Stallone and Doornick even collaborated on pranks, one day tricking Brigitte Nielsen into thinking Sico could inhale helium and talk in a squeaky voice (Doornick, who controlled and voiced Sico, was the one breathing in the gas). “Everybody played along with it, until Stallone couldn’t take it anymore,” says Doornick. “He pointed at me and said, ‘This guy’s running the robot!’ She was so pissed.”
In the years that followed, Sico — who Doornick created in the ’70s to help special-needs children — continued his showbiz career. He warmed up for James Brown on one of the singer’s tours. He guest-starred in Days Of Our Lives, entertained Ronald Reagan and starred in Carly Simon’s music video for ‘My New Boyfriend’ — yes, he was the boyfriend. There were even plans between Doornick and Burt Young about a Paulie / Sico TV sitcom that never came off. It’s all been an amazing trip for the inventor, who never imagined any of it. “As a child I saw a cartoon about an evil robot that harmed people,” Doornick reveals. “So I promised myself that someday I’d build a robot that would help people.”
That creation remains in his “robot garage” in Stamford, Connecticut, ready to roll out and assist people at a moment’s notice. And maybe, just maybe, Stallone will have a Paulie-esque change of heart. “I don’t think Sly understands just how popular Sico has become,” Doornick concludes. “He’s a sweetheart.”
Originally published in Empire’s November 2020 issue.